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Hands On Experiences In The First Year Engineering Classroom

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.535.1 - 6.535.9



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Paper Authors

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Jeffrey B. Connor

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Richard Goff

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Session 2793

Hands-On Experiences in the First Year Engineering Classroom

Richard M. Goff, Jeffrey B. Connor

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


To paraphrase Piaget, “In order for a child to understand something she must construct it herself, she must re-invent it”. Engineering students today tend to arrive with very good math and science skills, but limited practical experience. A questionnaire given to all 1200 incoming engineering students this past summer strongly supports this assertion. Chalk and talk instruction is not as effective as it once was when students came in with practical experience whether it was from working on cars, working on a farm, baking bread and cookies, or tinkering with model airplanes. Today’s students are web wired wizards, but ask them to attempt one of the above activities and few have the confidence or know how to begin. Today, there is a strong need to supplement lectures with hands-on activities. To address this need and to present a more inductive approach to engineering education, we presented several hands-on, collaborative, experiences during the semester in our first semester Introduction to Engineering lecture classes. These activities are 20 minutes in duration and require teams of four students to review a paragraph of introductory material and then solve a practical engineering problem such as finding the density of a geometrically complex block of wood using a tape measure and a postal scale. After the hands-on portion is completed, the students have several questions about the experience that they complete for homework. Each experience is designed to introduce and explore, in a very practical way, the concepts presented in the lecture material.

The paper will discuss the need for hands-on activities, the difficulty in implementation in a large (1200 students), freshman program and the rationale for the choice of activities. We will provide a list of the activities with their goals and compare these with the goals of the traditional lectures. Further, we will discuss the lessons we learned in the pilot project of eight sections of 32 students each as well as the goals for scaling up this program up for 36 sections of 32 students taught by 12 faculty members.


Until recently, most engineering education has focused on imparting a certain abstract body of knowledge. This education was designed to move students to a point where they are capable and competent in the use of the principles and techniques needed to solve engineering and design problems. However, minimal effort has been put into making the problem solving activities

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Connor, J. B., & Goff, R. (2001, June), Hands On Experiences In The First Year Engineering Classroom Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9323

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